The Cougars varsity football team at Casa Grande Union High School had a phenomenal season last year under longtime coach Jake Barro, clinching in December its first-ever state championship.
Now Barro is headed to Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe, but his successor has even deeper roots with the students who make up the backbone of the program. Mark Luna has been coaching youth football 16 years and began working with this academic year’s graduating seniors when they were 8 years old.
Same goes for the teens who’ll make up the team this fall.
“I’ve been coaching them since they were babies, too. Every kid that’s on that team, I would say 99% of them have come through my youth organization,” Luna said.
Luna has been CGUHS’s freshman football coach since 2015 and assistant varsity coach since 2019. Since 2006 he has been involved with the AZ Krush, a youth tackle football program.
Born and raised in Casa Grande, Luna graduated from the school he works for now in 2000 as a two-time All-State football offensive guard center and defensive lineman.
Originally committed to play for Arizona State University, he missed deadlines for scholarships there and at the University of Arizona, eventually playing for a year each at Norfolk State University in Virginia and Mesa Community College.
“I didn’t have anybody to help me go through that whole process, so that was one of the biggest reasons I got into coaching, to make sure it didn’t happen to other kids in small communities and make sure they always had someone looking out for them who can help them get to the next level,” he said.
After playing a few years for the Indoor Football League’s Arizona Rattlers, he came back full time to Casa Grande and youth coaching in 2012, feeding his players into the high school and joining the staff three years later.
His freshman teams have never lost more than two games in a season, while he’s continued to coach youth teams and coach the offensive line for the varsity. He said he delivers the same message about personal responsibility and focus to each player.
This fall will be full of transitions, as the CGUHS team moves up to a competitive Division 5A statewide without Barro and longtime athletic director Randy Robbins, who was Luna’s high school coach and has retired.
Luna says he’s ready with a positive, realistic outlook.
“Our goal doesn’t change. Our goal will be to win the title, but from the realistic end, we’re trying to get our feet wet in this new conference, make the playoffs, and hopefully we can build off of this first season, I can learn. It’s going to be a big learning experience for me, too,” he said.